Editors Are Piecing Together Fall Magazines, but Do Advertisers Still Care?

The pandemic is accelerating an already rapid decline in print advertising

covers of vogue, instyle and harper
Magazine editors are pulling together their September issues. Vogue, InStyle, Harper's Bazaar
Headshot of Sara Jerde

Key insights:

Fashion magazine editors have always been in the business of predicting the trends of upcoming seasons, months ahead of when their publications hit newsstands and subscribers’ mailboxes, but this year is particularly challenging.

Editors in the coming days will be putting the finishing touches on their September editions, which are usually the largest of the year—thick issues that attract pages and pages of advertisements. The story of how Vogue pieced it together was even the subject of an entire documentary. Put simply: The September issue is the Super Bowl of fashion magazines.

Covid-19 has left these magazines scrambling to virtually coordinate photoshoots and keep in constant communication with their longtime ad partners to tweak their messaging and provide them with an ad opportunity they might be willing to take. Despite these efforts, the pandemic seems to be accelerating the pre-pandemic decline in print advertising.

“Unfortunately, whether in the U.S. or markets around the world, we’re looking at a softer environment for advertising,” said Brian Wieser, global president, business intelligence at GroupM.

Luxury fashion designers, usually big spenders in the September issues that publish in August, have their own logistical challenges to sort through, such as their own production schedules.

It’s not clear whether Vogue or other fashion titles, such as Hearst Magazines’ Elle or Harper’s Bazaar, will publish on the same schedule as they did in previous years. Spokespersons for these companies declined to comment.

Meredith’s InStyle is sticking to its production schedule of 12 issues per year.

Even in a challenging time for print, these titles historically have attracted huge ad spreads. Last year for example, 59% of the 596 pages in Condé Nast’s Vogue September issue, which featured Taylor Swift on the cover, were ads, according to WWD. That page count beat competitors that year, but it was many fewer pages than the over 700-page issues the publisher had printed in the early 2000s.

“Print has already gone through that scrutiny and advertisers using it are using it for good reason, mainly because they think people are using it,” Wieser said. “With that noted, the trend of reducing spending on print was already pretty bad going into this downturn.”

"Marketers should be looking to these magazine brands much more holistically as trusted outlets of culture and fashion."
Judy Ungar Franks, Medill School of Journalism

The pandemic is expected to accelerate the decline in advertising that had been seen before Covid-19 tightened its grip. Print advertising was forecasted to decrease by 17% compared to last year. After the pandemic took hold, analysts predicted that would worsen to a 25% decline, according to the latest estimate by IPG Mediabrands-owned Magna Global.

Advertising trends in the style and fashion categories have even decreased among online video and OTT inventory, which saw a decrease of 51% in mid-May compared to the second week in March, according to SpotX’s analysis. Media buyers have, traditionally, underestimated the power of a magazine and have an under-appreciation for its reach that extends beyond a physical product,” said Judy Ungar Franks, lecturer at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

“Marketers should be looking to these magazine brands much more holistically as trusted outlets of culture and fashion across channels as opposed to sticking them into the silo that in no way reflects the footprint of magazines,” she added. “That has to change. I think magazines have already been doing it, and the advertising and media community hasn’t been giving them the credit they deserve.”

Across digital and print media, luxury fashion companies are likely to adjust their spend even more than other categories.

“Global supply chains have also been deeply impacted by the crisis, and since many luxury goods are global in nature—and often from Europe, which has been hit hard—it’s possible that those brands have been jolted more so than others,” said Mike Evans, svp of demand facilitation at SpotX.

Spokespersons for top fashion houses, including Chanel, Fendi, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior and Saint Laurent, didn’t return requests for on-record comments.

One luxury designer, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect the nature of conversations with publishers, said that the company put print on hold but was working with key partners, such as The New York Times, Condé Nast and Hearst on retaining their ad buys. While the company’s initial marketing plans are focusing on digital and social, their longer-term investments will return to print to increase brand awareness.

“This is about the designers, their warehouses, their ability to go get fabric, to shoot these creative masterpieces. They also have all this product to move from spring,” said Pam Drucker Mann, global chief revenue officer and president of U.S. revenue at Condé Nast. “Once they figure that out, they’ll be ready to talk about their marketing budgets.

Brands that do retain their spend are more likely to retain the relationship they have with a consumer, which has come to expect business from these brands—even in a pandemic, said Thomai Serdari, a strategist in luxury marketing and branding and adjunct professor at NYU Stern.

“We’re not driving like we stole it. We’re driving it like it’s got a flat.”
Laura Brown, In Style Editor in Chief

@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.